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Shakespeare Theatre Company

Company Wins Theater Suit, Round One

Shakespeare Theatre CompanyThe D.C. Superior Court ruled on Dec. 11 in favor of the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) in the company's efforts to stave off eviction from the Lansburgh Theatre, the home of STC for 20 years. The court enjoined all defendants—Boston-based developer Graham Gund and a group of entities and people affiliated with him—from taking any action to interfere with Shakespeare Theatre Company's occupancy of the Lansburgh.

The lawsuit, brought by STC, alleges that Gund, who donated the theatre to a nonprofit entity set up in 1992 in large part for STC's move into the theater, was attempting to control and interfere with that charity—in violation of its District of Columbia charter and agreements prohibiting his control—in order to enhance the profitability of the Lansburgh Building, which is owned by Gund and Gund's company Gunwyn/Lansburgh Limited Partnership.

Another hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Jan. 10.

“This is a victory for not only the Shakespeare Theatre Company, but for our patrons, supporters, and the people of Washington, D.C., who have shown their unwavering support during this time, ” STC's Managing Director Chris Jennings said in a press release. “We look forward to continuing to provide Washington, D.C., with world-class theatre in our home at the Lansburgh for many years to come, starting with Richard Schiff in Hughie at the end of January.”

In 1992, the Lansburgh Theatre was built specifically for STC as the quid pro quo agreed to by the developer of the Lansburgh apartment building (a partnership led by architect Gund) to the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation and the citizens of the District of Columbia for the right to develop the building. As part of this deal, Lansburgh Theatre Inc. (LTI) was established as a specialized nonprofit charity solely created to serve as the theatre's landlord and to support the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

The requirements in LTI's Articles state that LTI may not change its “designated supported organization”—STC—and it must be responsive to STC, giving the company a significant voice in any major decisions. In addition, LTI lacks the power to terminate either STC's status as the supported organization or its right to occupy the theatre as long as STC performs its charitable purpose, which continues today. By law, no person including LTI, may have a private economic interest in the theatre property. Under the current lease agreement, 100 percent of the rent STC pays goes into a capital reserve fund that is held in trust exclusively to maintain the upkeep of the Lansburgh Theatre.

“LTI is clearly mismanaging its charter which dictates it must only be in existence to house the Shakespeare Theatre Company in the Lansburgh building,” Jennings said. “LTI has demanded a 700 percent increase in the base rent. Thus far, we have been unable to find a more appropriate solution to what we felt was an unreasonable and groundless request. LTI would not budge and demanded that STC vacate the theater. Because LTI refuses to withdraw its threats, STC has been forced to seek a court injunction to force LTI to comply with its obligations and thus stop it from trying, illegally, to evict STC.”

The Lansburgh is STC's secondary home. The company opened Harman Hall several blocks from the Lansburgh in 2007 and uses both theaters for its repertoire as well as visiting productions.

November 27, 2012

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